While we were visiting family in Seattle this August, both sets of grandparents (Mark's mom and my mom and dad) took us all, including kids, brother, sisters and dogs, on a houseboat for a few days. The boat sailed (gingerly) out of the Kettle Falls Marina deep in north-central Washington near the Grand Coulee Dam. The gorgeous sunrises, sets, morning walks, evening paddles meant that I made myself pretty occasionally useless - disappearing with my camera. It's rare for us all to be together, let alone in such a scenic location... (sorry, Lynnwood.) Our oldest monkey really took to the water sports, learning to row, kayak, and SUP. The littlest was just happy to swim out to the end of the houseboat in his lifejacket (is there anything scarier than swimming by a big boat in the water??) It took my sister's pup, Max, several days to recover from all the excitement. The water was cold, the Milky Way was clear, the nighttime board-gaming was fierce. Living our days outside with bug bites, fresh air and scratches, going where the current (and nautical charts and Mark's flying app) take us, and tumbling into makeshift beds after makeshift meals, exhausted, at night. We can't wait to do it again someday soon.
Dear baby Sean,
As your photographer, I just want you to know that this session epitomizes to me what a newborn session should be - art that lives. A slice of the everyday, preserved artistically for generations. But not just any everyday - a day when YOU were there to make it all new again. A piece of time where you existed in the very beginning, a brand-spankin'-new family with a new completeness. This family will never be the same again, because now YOU are there.
And I just want you to see what I saw that day in your home. Love, security, warmth, calm. Mommy and daddy oohed and ahhed over your little face and tiny toes; yes, you really made that adorable yawning face; and yes, big sis had to be bribed with ice cream to sit with you. You also pooped on my blankets and wanted to eat about a bajillion times, but hey, you're a baby, I understand! :) We took pictures all over the house and on the back porch, where someday soon you'll run and play. You know my pictures are as natural as can be, so what you're seeing here isn't posed, they are the REAL DEAL kiddo - the looks, the glances, the caring, the smiles. This is family.
Welcome to your new family, baby Sean, you're going to love it.
All the Love,
your friendly photographer, Ann
The first thing you hear is the deep rolling timbre of the drums. Then the mournful wail of a hundred piccolo trumpets. You see runners approaching to get in the front of the float. Then you see, above the heads, the slow Paso creeping, almost stumbling along - two tons of weight supported on the shoulders of 40 big men. Over 10 hours, until 2 am, these solemn processions wind their way through the streets of Granada during Holy Week, the carriers swapping out at intervals. Holy Week in Spain is a world-famous event, especially in Seville. On our spring break vacation, by the grace of the US govt. (thanks military flights!) we got to experience this awe-inspiring event in Granada, a city south of Madrid in the hilly Andalusia. (Skip to the bottom to see Mark's video clips of our first chilling pasos experience at midnight! I will never forget when those trumpets started playing.)
These are just a few shots (ok maybe a lot) of our trip to Andalusia in March 2016 with my parents. Our first stop was Granada, specifically to see the Alhambra - considered the most lovely palace in the world. This Moorish palace was the last stronghold of the Islamic Nasrid dynasty in Spain that reached back to 711 A.D. and once covered most of the Spanish peninsula. It was recaptured by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 - Columbus met the rulers there and convinced them to finance his trip to the New World! We got to see the Hall of Ambassadors where this happened. The sunset views from top transport you to another time.
From there we drove south through the hills towards the Mediterranean. We stayed in a staffed villa near the hill town of Comares for several days. (Casa Colinas - we found it on AirBnB - amazing owners and they press their own olive oil!!) The boys had a great time with the villa dogs - Dexter (Dalmation), Woody and Bella. My mom and I loved not cooking and all the delicious tapas we could handle. Lots of gorgeous views and walks through avocado and olive trees. After a seaside stop in Nerja, we visited the rock of Gibraltar and had some fish and chips! Where else do a bunch of bored monkeys enjoy such an amazing view?
Our last stay was in a rented villa in a nature park right outside Tarifa, the southernmost point of Spain. From there we could watch the container ships passing through the strait (Mark tracked them on an app - where they came from and where they were heading!) and we could see Morocco in all its sunrise and sunset beauty. The kids loved exploring on the trails and little coves along the coast and I loved ALL the beach glass. There was a Roman site along the Bolonia beach (kite-surfing capital) there called Baelo Claudio from 2nd century B.C. We didn't really expect to see Roman ruins in Spain and I could just imagine waking up to that view every day. No wonder they rebuilt it 5 times after earthquakes!!
It was our first multigenerational trip and it was great just being together and finally DOING what my mom and I used to just dream about. Driving was the best - we got to see so much of the country. And I think we'll all remember when we got stuck in the underground garage with our Euro-mini-van! The boys picked up some Andalusian Spanish and learned that not everyone gets Easter baskets. These are the kinds of things I love to experience with them.
What really happens when you take two boys, 9 and 4, to a world-class art gallery? Last Friday, I took my oldest out of school early, and we headed to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. to find out. As I sifted through afterwards for the best, most beautiful images, I realized that simply wouldn't be the truth. THIS is the honest reality of kids in a gallery. Here are the outtakes, the in-betweens, of what really goes on when some parents try to instill a little culture into their kid's lives.
Giggling, gawking, and some honest questions at all the naked ladies, gents, and babies. (cupids.)
The "8 minute into it exaggerated leg stretch" and "can we go Mommy" hand gesture. (Actually I think Knox was actually trying to show me something! WIN!)
"It's not Monet, it's CLAUDE Monet, Mommy." Says the 4-year-old who's taken 3 after school art classes.
Photobombs and LOTS of pretended excitement.
There were LOTS of convenient couches, and my kids found ALL of them. Notice the rapidly-evacuating fellow patron...
Skimming by the Van Gogh.
Let's just go ahead and give the docent a heart attack... (for the record, we only got yelled at once! WIN!)
Titled: Is This Fun or What?! Also titled: Or What.
Gliding by the Raphael.
Suddenly, outside, new-found energy for running, skipping and dancing!!!
Outside, all is relaxation and contentment.
Finally, allowable climbing and jumping.
So what's the deal? Is art wasted on the young? If our youngest and most honest selves don't appreciate it, is there anything to appreciate? I think my boys did appreciate it in their own ways, especially for it being the end of the day, and an especially warm museum. My oldest loved all the naked bronze statues from ancient Greece. My youngest was fascinated by the graphic depictions of the crucifixion. They certainly didn't love what I thought they'd love. But we all learned, we as parents learned more about our boys, and we enjoyed some time exploring together. And despite the docent smack-down and the $100 parking ticket, we WILL return, boys in tow. Because sometimes they just don't know what's good for them. :)
I've been flirting with more posed newborn shots. I love a gorgeous, minimalist, clean-line baby portrait and the following are some examples of my most recent shoot. I still adore the authenticity of lifestyle though, and if I decide to offer posed newborn sessions, they would have to be a studio set-up only as it is HARD to lug around all that gear!!! :)
Mark and I have traveled a lot without kids. But because of short stays and packed schedules, we felt, and were treated, like tourists. Traveling with kids is amazing because suddenly, you are not just a tourist. You are a parent - you're relatable. People come up and talk to you about your kids and to your kids. They smile more. They tell you about their families. And we met some extraordinary people that went out of their way to make sure our boys were having a great time. Chena, Jose, Henry, "C," even a world-class chef, Chef Rob. (more about him later!) One late afternoon, Jose promised to take the boys across the ferry at Clarissa Falls.
The best thing was that Mark and I got to go too! Having the kids with us opened us up to all sorts of different experiences that we wouldn't have had by ourselves. Even the kid-enforced down-time, relaxing in the afternoon before dinner while the boys napped or played Legos (which, yes, we brought) helped Mark and I slow down and really feel the vibe of where we were. I laid in the hammock and watched a thunderstorm pass over us. I watched the chickens and turkeys cluck around the yard. We talked with Chena and Jose. We walked all over the property and searched for Maya artifacts in some bulldozed areas. We rode horses by the river. Yes, we did a lot in 8 days. But we never felt hurried or harried.
But downtime can't last forever - so the next day we hitched a ride with a sweet American couple, Barbara and her husband (in their seventies!!) to Cahal Pech (CAY-hall Petch), or, "place of ticks," as it was named by explorers.
Cahal Pech tops a hill overlooking the Macal and Mopan rivers. Around 600 A.D., at its height, it was the extensive home of an elite Maya family, though artifacts found here date all the way back to 1200 B.C. It was probably abandoned to the trees around 800 A.D.
This site was so cool! At Xunantunich, you could only climb on top of the ruins. Here, you can run THROUGH them. Because it was a residence, these buildings had all sorts of passageways, stairs, and rooms with stone ledges in them that we called beds.
This site was so impressive - I think the trees left standing in the center of the plazas really made it feel like a ruin to me, straight out of Indiana Jones. There are so many mounds here still left unexcavated, too.
We headed back to Clarissa for one more delicious meal. The next morning, it was off to the market in San Ignacio, then east to Hopkins Village on the Caribbean, via the thrilling Hummingbird Highway through the rainforested mountains.
At the market, which was the smaller Wednesday version of the larger Saturday event, our eyes feasted on all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Since staying with Chena, I was introduced to jicama (hickama) and tamarind. I didn't get to try breadfruit, which I was curious about since you can eat it fried like a pancake. Reis fearlessly bought some candy - chocolate and gummy worms - and ate them all up. Most everything is grown here, even the potatoes sold by the local Amish. But there were some imports, like the Gala apples from Washington state! We bought some for Chena and Jose, who were driving us to Hopkins. WA apples were $3.65/lb. while local bananas were $.50 for three.
Chena met us at the market and was going to sit on a seat in the back of Jose's truck before I told her to come into the backseat with me and the boys! And I was glad we did, since it rained during part of the drive through the mountains. And what a drive! Sadly, I didn't get pictures, we were zipping along, but just imagine misty tropical rainforests rising in mountain behind mountain, fading to foggy blue. Acres and acres of soldier rows of orange trees, some covered in suffocating airplants. More colorful concrete homes in bright blue, pink, and orange. We made one touristy stop at St. Herman's Cave and the in-land Blue Hole (big famous one is out by the Barrier Reef). St. Herman's Cave was probably the biggest cave I've explored after Carlsbad Caverns. And the Blue Hole, a natural spring surround by lush tropical plants that feeds into the cave, was exciting for the kids. They had fun stripping to their underwear and swimming/splashing around. I didn't have my camera for that either but I wish I had.
The 2-hour ride felt short, listening to Chena and Jose. Chena hadn't been to Hopkins in several years and was taking a holiday. She showed us all the different types of trees - dwarf coconut, breadfruit, almond, papaya, mango, cashew, etc. Reis slept on her shoulder. They drove us all the way to the south end of Hopkins to the next stage in our adventure, Parrot Cove Lodge.
Stay tuned for the fourth and final installment of traveling with kids in Belize! Snorkeling, Ziplining, and a special surprise by a world-renowned chef!
During our stay at Clarissa Falls, we visited two nearby ancient Maya sites - Xunantunich (Shoo-NAN-too-nick, or as Jose says, "Son-of-a-bitch") and Cahal Pech (CAY-hal PETCH). The other two major sites within traveling distance (Tikal - in Guatemala - and Caracol) involved all-day trips, which we weren't keen on with our easily-burnt-out boys. But Xunantunich was only 3 miles from us, you can even see it from the roads around Clarissa, so it was just a short drive with Jose into San Ignacio and across a fun two-car crank ferry.
Xunantunich commands the top of a hill, and most of the excavated buildings date to its peak period, around 600-700 A.D., though Mayans may have lived in the area as early as 1000 B.C. The site cost $10 BZ (roughly $5 US) per adult and included a small but interesting visitor center. Jose dropped us off and armed with granola bars, GoGo Squeeze applesauce and water bottles, we set off to explore.
I'm just going to go ahead and say that I have never been so terrified as a parent. While my boys scrambled like ninny goats up steep crumbling steps with rocky drop-offs, I had Mayan visions of falling bodies and crushed skulls. I was acutely aware, as I clutched Knox's sweaty, slippery baby hand, that Belizean trauma centers are extremely few and far between. Once we got to the top of these temples, it was no better, because then they wanted to run, and lean, and all sorts of dangerous things. But once we had them sitting firmly with butts to the ground, looking out over the complex, then, WOW!!!
Xunantunich means "Stone Woman" in Maya (combined Mopan and Yucatec) language. The site was named upon excavation in the 1890s when the ghost of a woman was seen entering El Castillo. The ancient Maya name for this city center is sadly lost. El Castillo is the second-tallest Mayan building in Belize, after the Caracol site.
The ancient Maya led a very spiritual existence, which centered on the Tree of Life extending from the Underworld in the earth to the Overworld in the heavens. Their sense of place was defined by east and west (with the rising and setting of the sun god) rather than north and south. Xunantunich has friezes on its east and west facing sides, dedicated to the sun and moon gods.
The Maya shaman view and breeze from the top was almost worth the risk getting there. Even Reis got scared on the top of this one! Luckily the last few steps are enclosed. I couldn't help thinking that a site like this in the States would be railing-ed and roped to death. Actually, people probably wouldn't be allowed to climb on it.
Despite being overcast and thunderstorms, we were all wilted and sweaty. The temperature was similar to NC in July, and the sun, being so much closer near the equator, was HOT on your skin. Jose returned us safely to Clarissa, where the kids had fun playing in the river with some progressive Mennonite kids who had come for lunch after church. Cooling off for me meant a cold shower and a (life-changing) pina colada in the breezy hammock, though.
The next morning after breakfast, Chena took us for a hike through the uncleared jungle part of Clarissa. She often takes student groups to teach them the different healing properties of the various plants in the jungle. Did I mention that Chena was a healer, too? She knew the name and purpose of every plant. Grind this for aspirin, crush this for energy (that last one kept me from passing out in the heat and exertion!) After four months of disuse, the jungle was beginning to take back the trail, so Henry went ahead with his machete.
Thanks to our all-natural bug spray (lemon oil, tree oil, eucalyptus), we got maybe 5 mosquito bites between us all in the four days we were at Clarissa Falls. We were all on an anti-malarial regimen too, which we started the day before we arrived. But based on the low risk (the State Department claimed a less than 1% chance of contracting malaria in under 30 days) we would have stopped it if the kids had any side effects. Thankfully we all had no problems. And all the jungle bugs that I worried about were nonexistent. No flies or mosquitos, even in the evening when we ate outside. I didn't see one enormous spider or beetle, unless you count the 4 inch centipede that Mark found in the dryer after our post-trip laundry...
Though we heard howler monkeys, It was late morning, so most of the animals were seeking the cool of underground burrows. I didn't blame them! We did see lots of leafcutter ants, their little green sails looking like mini-regattas across the trail. After humans, these species of ant have the most complex societies on earth. Their mounds, like the one above, can reach 98 ft. in diameter.
It was a good hour and a half hike, and the boys did awesome over the rough terrain. When we returned, Henry treated us to cut coconuts so the kids could try fresh coconut water. It was not a hit with them, but it is so refreshing! Nature's Gatorade.
In our last Clarissa installment, we visit Cahal Pech and the market in San Ignacio! Then, it's off to the beach! Thanks for reading!
We decided to just jump off and take the boys out of the country for spring break. We were in desperate need of a family vacation after a long deployment and cold winter. Mark and I decided on Belize because I crave a little history/culture in every vacation (i.e. Mayan ruins), but we also wanted the warmth and beauty of the Caribbean. We'd been to Belize before for a mini-honeymoon and stayed in the touristy resort area of Ambergris Caye, so we thought we knew what to expect. This time, though we were venturing deep into the heart of the jungle, almost into Guatemala, near a town called San Ignacio. When our driver, Jose, met us at Belize International in n old truck and proceeded to wrap our luggage in a tarp while I hunted for seatbelts long-forgotten, I knew we were in for very different experience! It was 1 p.m. Belize time (Central), 3 p.m. our time after a 3 a.m. wake-up. We headed out on the main highway toward the west, sometimes bumping on dirt stretches, the full wind and humidity in our faces with occasional rain drops. We passed colorful pink, green and blue concrete homes built up on stilts, laundry in the breeze, tropical trees bearing papaya, banana, coconut, almonds, breadfruit. Also red dirt, garbage, sad stray dogs, and barefoot children. Our first stop - Belize Zoo.
Like the ex-Salvadoran soldier he is, (he fought in the civil war in El Salvador for most of his life before moving to Belize) Jose marched us through the Belize Zoo in 30 minutes flat. It was a small zoo full of rescued (and some quite tame) Belizean animals, sitting up close where we could get a great view. Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, deer, toucans, macaws, jaguar, black panther, tapir, agouti, stork, crocodile, and puma were just some of the indigenous species we saw.
But we were hot and tired and hungry and Jose took pity on us and hustled us back to the truck, which we'd left unlocked with everything of value inside. Already, we pretty much trusted Jose with our lives. After another 45 minutes of driving past the capital of Belmopan, we pushed through the twin villages of Santa Elena and San Ignacio and came to rest in the quiet working cattle ranch/ eco-resort on the Mopan (Mo-Pahn) River, Clarissa Falls.
Clarissa Falls resort is a magical place unlike anywhere I've stayed before, run by the amazing Azucena (Chen-ah) Galvez. It sits smack in the middle of a valley of cleared jungle where her brothers carry on the work of four previous generations - cattle ranching.
Like many Belizeans, Chena speaks English, Spanish and Creole fluently. She is equally at home working on her computer on FB, and hacking trails through the jungle all day with her machete. She is a phenomenal cook of anything from pizza (which Reis had every night) to traditional Belizean dishes like chicken with rice and beans. Her warm welcome and calm sweet manner put us at ease immediately. She showed us to our hut, fed us dinner in the open air restaurant, and tucked us into bed.
Because of the time difference (2 hours earlier) the boys and I were up at dawn, which was 6 a.m. We spent our mornings walking the roads around Clarissa Falls, with our two faithful sentinels, Biscuit (black) and Sacky (brown) as our guides.
We returned "home" with a good appetite - ready to hang out in the restaurant and order rice, beans, fryjacks (puffy doughnuts) and eggs, or (for the kids) delicious pancakes. Clarissa Falls, we found, was known throughout Belize. While we were there, many different groups came to eat at the restaurant, including Amish, Mennonites, local villagers, Mormon missionaries, and tourists. She often has school groups stay for several weeks. The team of archaeologists from University of Alabama uncovering the local Mayan ruin, Actuncan, also stay with Chena every year. For those staying at Clarissa, drinks, Belikin beer and Mennonite ice cream (made by the local Mennonites) operate on the honor system. We just grabbed them as needed and put it on our tab.
I'll leave you with this view over Clarissa Falls - stay tuned for our trip to the Mayan ruins and some fun on the river!